As more people become aware of the severe environmental impact of animal agriculture, the number of plant-based alternatives on the market has exploded, with some offering vegan “meat” that is practically indistinguishable from the real thing. Upside Foods, for example, is ready to serve consumers an even more authentic experience: actual meat, but without the farm.
The business unveiled a massive facility in Emeryville, California on Thursday, November 4 – the Engineering, Production, and Innovation Center, or “EPIC” – with 16,154 square meters (53,000 square feet) of renewable-powered vats and tubes.
It is described as the first of its type, and the business claims it is ready to begin commercial production of 22,680 kilos (50,000 pounds) of cultured meat as soon as it is legal in the United States.
“Our meat production method is inspired by nature’s basic principles: start with one cell and give it the proper nutrients to allow it to grow and multiply,” says the website of Upside Foods, a so-called “cultured meat” company based in Berkley, California (the term “lab-grown meat” is banned in the industry).
The company’s CEO Uma Valeti’s background as a cardiologist, though, adds to those “fundamental principles” he was motivated to start Upside by “the concept of infusing stem cells into the human heart” to help it repair after a heart attack, he told The Economist.
The firm claims that it is “dedicated to entirely divorcing our production method from animal killing.” “We want to have animal component-free products on the market as soon as possible.” “The industry’s goal over the last five years has truly been to establish that the science works,” Valeti told Fast Company. “The next step is to figure out how to get items from the lab to the industrial scale.”
The facility, which is unable to sell the meat until it receives regulatory certification from the US Department of Agriculture and the FDA, will be open for visits and product testing beginning in January.
Visitors to EPIC’s main chamber will see giant tanks called bioreactors packed with living animal cells soaked in a cocktail of nutrients that, science permitting, will develop them to a size fit for a meal.
“We offer the cell a spectrum of nutrients (amino acids, carbohydrates, trace minerals, and vitamins) commonly available in food and compositionally identical to what occurs spontaneously in the animal body, albeit in a different format,” Upside Foods writes on its website. According to the website, “a range of techniques, “including” biopsies from living animals, eggs, fishing, and recently slain animals that were already a part of the food system, gathers the first cells. “We also expect our cells to be able to self-renew forever,” the business continues, “so we won’t need to return to the animal for consecutive samples.”
Upside Foods isn’t shy about the environmental benefits of lab-grown beef over its traditional counterpart: at scale, “cell-cultured meat may use up to 90% less land and water, and generate up to 90% less greenhouse emissions,” according to the company’s website.
According to a survey in April 2021, the benefits of refined meat are “abundant”, while another study from 2019 found that switching to lab-produced meat could reduce [greenhouse gas] emissions … 78-96 percent, Depending on the type of meat, land use is 99 percent, water use 82-96 percent, and energy consumption 7-45 percent, compared to conventional farming. “
And it gets better: the new meat has the potential to not only reduce but also reverse carbon emissions: “instead of using larger land for the necessary agricultural crops required for livestock farming,” the 2019 paper proposes, “large areas could be released and redeveloped or used for other purposes such as carbon capture.”
The… ahem… advantages of Upside’s meat, on the other hand, are not restricted to environmental considerations. In recent years, we have all had to learn about zoonotic diseases – infections that may spread from animals to people – and epidemiologists have cautioned that rising livestock production raises the risk of new illnesses appearing.
Meanwhile, the widespread use of antibiotics in agriculture has accelerated the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, posing a danger to decades of medical progress.
These difficulties, as well as issues of animal cruelty and human cruelty, eliminated with cultured meat – between 2015 and 2018, workers in the meat and poultry industries lost body parts or required medical care every other day. Unfortunately, for those seeking a taste of the future, cultured meat is presently only available in one location: Singapore. If Upside receives regulatory permission, it will be the first meat on the menu at Atelier Crenn in San Francisco since 2018.
Then, as Valeti sees it, the landscape of meat production is swiftly shifting. Cultured meat might be as inexpensive as, if not cheaper, than farm-grown beef in five to 10 years, he told Fast Company.
“What’s happened in the food sector in the last five years is unlike anything that’s ever happened,” Valeti added. “There are approximately 100 firms trying to do cultured meat all over the world, in practically every meat-producing and meat-consuming country.”” “That level of acceleration has never been seen in the food industry, let alone in a completely new field.”